Close your eyes and envision yourself “networking.” What do you see?
I see a crowded conference hall complete with an open bar and one too many people (who have had one too many drinks) asking me for my business card before asking my name.
Yes, I loathe “networking” in that sense.
The kind of networking you should do as a college student is not conference-style networking. It’s “moving-up the chain” networking. If done properly and early, this kind of networking could land you a job offer before graduation.
HOW TO MOVE UP THE CHAIN
Moving-up-the-chain networking is simply the process of getting to know key people who have connections to other people of influence.
Let’s say you want an accounting job. Instead of going to a conference for accountants, you’d talk to your accounting professors, accountant alumni, and fellow accounting students on campus. Why? Because, while these individuals may not offer any immediate value, they could introduce you to someone that might.
The goal is, you guessed it, to move up the chain. You want someone to introduce you to someone else who might be able to help you. Not everyone you meet is going to have a great contact for you, but just by telling more people about what you are trying to accomplish, you’ve already increased the number of people thinking about you when an opportunity arises.
A friend of mine is a networking queen. One morning, on her way to work, she met a guy on the bus and chatted to him about a company she was starting. This guy happened to be a writer for our local newspaper. A couple of weeks later, he wrote about her company in the paper. Random? Absolutely. Worth it? Absolutely!
Not everyone is as comfortable talking to people as my friend. That’s totally understandable. Most people wonder what they should say, whom they should reach out to, and why people will help them. Here’s some advice to help you overcome these questions and get started.
YOU DON’T NEED TO ASK FOR ANYTHING
As a college student, it is very easy to email a professor or dean and invite them to coffee or lunch to talk about your future career goals. Usually, professors and administrators love meeting with students and are eager to help.
All it takes is a simple “I’d love to grab coffee and discuss my career plans. Maybe you can help to steer me down the right path?” Bam! You’ve introduced yourself, given the person an easy way to feel good about helping someone, and subtly asked for help.
SOMEONE CAN ONLY HELP YOU IF THEY KNOW YOU
It’s physically impossible for you to know about every opportunity available to you. That’s where networking comes in.
Think of networking as creating your own opportunity army. It may sound selfish, but most people feel awesome when they have helped someone. The key here is to talk to a lot of people and form relationships.
For instance, everyone knew I was crazy about scholarships and wanted to help me along the way. People even texted me photos of scholarship opportunities they had seen on the bus or the back of a cereal box! By letting everyone know what my dreams were, I received help from unexpected places.
AND FINALLY…. FOLLOW UP!
An introduction, a text message, or helpful advice is only useful if you follow up on it. When someone says, “you should talk to such and such!” you should really make the effort to get in touch with that person.
Remember how I said that people love to help people? Well, when you do not follow up, helpful people become less likely to help you again. Make the effort—even if you believe it will be a waste. It’s totally fine to say something like “yeah, I looked into it and that wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.”
If you make the effort for other people, they will gladly make an effort for you!
Have any in-school networking tips? Share them in the comments.